Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 117)
On September 3, 2012 Sir Richard Branson–the famous entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group enterprise—created a buzz in the tech world when he tweeted “Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.” Many people thought his comment was brilliant, others found it naïve. But some heard echoes of a principle that had been articulated centuries before—the principle known as “Ockham’s Razor.”
Without wandering too far into the philosophical or theological weeds, Ockham’s Razor is the name of a problem-solving principle attributed to an English Franciscan friar named William of Ockham (1287-1347), who said (in Latin), “It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.” Apparently, he too inherited the idea from philosophers like Aristotle and Ptolemy, but somehow it is Ockham’s name that has become associated with the principle—nobody ever heard of “Ptolemy’s Razor!”
This same principle might apply to Psalm 117, which is the shortest (and simplest) of all the songs in the book of psalms. It is also notable because it falls smack dab in the middle of your Bible. Of the 1189 chapters in the Bible, Psalm 117 is number 595 (go ahead, do the math).
Just two verses long, the psalm calls upon “all the nations,” and “all you peoples” to praise and extol the Lord. Looking more closely at those two commands, there is a subtle but significant difference between them. The Hebrew word for praise (halal), literally means to shine a light on something—in other words, to point toward or highlight something or someone. It can also mean “shout for joy.” In short, to “praise the Lord” (Hallelu-Yah, in Hebrew) implies that whatever is worth praising is also worth shining on and shouting out for everyone to see and hear.
The word translated as extol (shabach) can also be translated as praise, but the literal meaning is to “soothe” or “pacify.” The implication is to appreciate, commend or keep something good inside. Whatever it is that is worth shouting about is also worth clinging to; whatever or whoever it is that is so outwardly “praise-worthy” is also deeply and inwardly “peace-giving.”
So, who is this that demands both the praising and extoling of every nation and tribe? It is the Lord; the one true God. “For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” (vs. 2). God’s love and faithfulness is something that soothes and pacifies us when we are helpless and hurting inside. And that love and faithfulness is so great that we can’t just keep it to ourselves, we have to shout about it and shine a light on it so that everyone else can find and experience the Source. Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples “You are the light of the world!” Don’t just keep it to yourselves, let it shine so that others can see God’s goodness and glory too! (Matthew 5:14-16)
That’s the simple truth of Psalm 117. We don’t make it any better by making it longer or more complicated. It doesn’t become any more real when we add all of the rules and traditions of our churches and faith. It doesn’t become any more true by trying to explain it or feeling the need to defend or argue about it.
Maybe that’s why God decided to put this simple song smack dab in the middle of your Bible.
This loving and faithful God is worthy of every halal and every shabach. His love is something to cling to right now. His faithfulness is our hope and our anchor in the storm (Hebrews 6:19). And this good news is something so good…so important…so life-giving, that we can’t hide the light and keep it to ourselves. It’s something worth pointing to in our conversations, something worth shouting about in our worship, something worth shining out in our lives!
“Praise the Lord all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelu-Yah!”
Know Him, and make Him known. And always stay thirsty, my friends!